This post contains references to behaviour sometimes exhibited in times of acute severe mental illlness, and enforced Caesarean sections, which most people might find distressing and some people might find triggering.
For months now, years now, feminist bloggers have talked about how important public services are, how valuable public sector workers are, how much they respect the workers who deliver the service, how much they value the services they provide, how much they recognise that public services are vitally important to women, and how much they detest and condemn government attacks on public services. That all goes out of the window though, the minute there’s a chance to have a go at social workers. No matter how much they purport to support public services, they can’t wait to condemn social workers, call for their heads on spikes, criticise their every move, pull apart their every decision, and portray them as callous, wicked, incompetent evil-doers, no matter how half-arsed the evidence. People who know that press reports aren’t always accurate or truthful, people who know that social workers are unable to report their side of a story because of confidentiality, people who know that perceptions of situations differ and aren’t always accurate, people, in short, who should know better, are lining up to say how the behaviour of the social worker is disgusting and there can’t possibly be any justification for what’s happened.
The Telegraph reported that a pregnant Italian woman came to Britain last July to attend a training course. She then suffered a panic attack and called the police, who became concerned for her well-being and took her to a hospital that she soon realized was a psychiatric facility (the woman’s family believes that her panic attack was caused by her failure to take medication for her bipolar condition). The woman has told her lawyers that when she expressed a desire to return to her hotel, she was restrained and sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Essex County Council social workers obtained a High Court order in August for the woman’s birth to “to be enforced by way of caesarean section.” The woman claims that in the 5 weeks between being sectioned and the enforced C-section, she was given no information about the legal proceedings relating to her pregnancy.
And then the internet kicked off.
I read “social workers can now remove children on a whim if the mother has a mental illness.” Ha bloody ha. A local authority not far from here appointed a new chief social work officer a few years ago. The first thing one of the social work managers did was take a huge pile of files to the CSWO’s office and say “here are all the children we have assessed as needing to be removed from their homes to a place of safety because they are in immediate danger, who we can’t remove because we have nowhere else for them to go.” Do you really think social workers who don’t have anywhere to put children who are definitely at risk are going to go round snatching children just because the mother has a mental health problem? How would they even know the mother has a mental illness? They don’t have time (or permission) to read the medical notes of every woman in the area looking for mothers with mental illness. Children are referred to social workers because there are concerns for them. Social workers don’t go out looking for business.
I’ve read “social workers are paid for every child they remove.” Bollocks. That’s not just a misunderstanding, it’s an outright lie.
I’ve read that social workers will snatch the children of every sex worker, because social workers are all devotees of radfem theory, which is so ridiculous it’s actually laughable. Unless my colleagues wait until I’ve gone out for the day before they start discussing radfem theory.
I’ve read that this is “socialized medicine at its best,” to which I can only say “fuck off, teabagger.”
I’ve read that the social workers got the court order for the C-section to avoid having to pay for several weeks of care for the woman in question, which again is nonsense. A person who is so ill that they have been detained in hospital does not need social care, they need hospital care, which is why they have been detained in hospital. A person in hospital is not coming out of social work’s budget, for want of a better way of putting it. I cannot imagine any social worker trying to go to court to get an order for a C-section because it would save the NHS money. It just wouldn’t happen. And if it did, I don’t believe there’s a judge in the country who would make that order. Contrary to popular internet belief, judges and sheriffs take this kind of thing seriously, and they will not deprive someone of their liberty unless they have been convinced that it is absolutely necessary.
Very few people bothered to make the point that the press reports might not be accurate, and certainly were not the whole story. A few people tried to point out that the source of the story was Christopher Brooker, who has form for making up shit about social workers, but they were shouted down in the general outrage. Christopher Brooker distorts facts and tells outright lies about social workers and social work departments. This post has quite a lot of detail about it. This High Court judgement, paragraph 185, criticises Mr Brooker for reporting that social workers stole a child from its parents on the flimsiest evidence of “faint bruising.” The child had fractures of its left ulna, right femur, right tibia, left fibula, and two in the left tibia. That’s one broken arm, two fractures in the right leg and three fractures in the left leg, and experts agreed none of them could have been accidental injuries.
Mr Brooker is not a reliable source and I cannot understand why so many people were willing to believe his take on events when it’s obvious he is not a reliable reporter of matters relating to child protection. And I cannot understand why so many people were willing to accept that the Telegraph report was a full and accurate picture of the facts, when they know fine well that it was only half a story.
Social workers are generally forbidden from speaking to the press, and they can never give full details of their cases or the reasoning behind the decisions that they make, because of strict rules about confidentiality. This means that any person or family can go to the press and say “the social workers stole my children/abucted my granny/refused me a new house” and give a completely one-sided view of events, calling the social workers incompetent and dishonest, and the social workers can’t give their version of the facts. One of my colleagues was involved in a very distressing situation a few years ago when she had to get a court order to remove an elderly person from their family’s care in their own home. The family could easily have gone to the paper and made accusations of institutional incompetence and malice, and the social worker would not have been able to respond with the facts, which were that the family had neglected the elderly person to the point that they had a bone-deep pressure sore on their body and weren’t given so much as a paracetamol to relieve the pain, let alone appropriate wound care.
So, to the very sad and distressing case of the pregnant Italian woman who underwent an enforced C-section. The woman has bi-polar disorder, and her family believe she hadn’t been taking her medication. We don’t know if she was in the depressive phase or the mania phase of her illness. We don’t know how ill she was. We do know that she was so ill that she needed to be detained in hospital, and we know that social workers were able to convince a judge that an enforced C-section was the best option, and that the professionals who performed the section were also willing to go ahead.
So many people seem to think that despite knowing any of the facts, they know better than the many professionals, including a high court judge, and that there can be no possible justification for this course of action.
What if the woman was so severely depressed that she had become psychotic and believed the baby was a demon who was killing her and she was trying to hack it out of her body with implements or her own hands? What if she was determined to kill herself in order to kill the demon within her? It’s happened before. What if she believed that she and the baby were super-human, possibly divine, and she had to get the baby out of her by any means in order for it to begin its divine work? People with severe, acute, florid mental illness can hold extremely powerful, bizarre delusional beliefs, and very often feel compelled to act on them. Anti-psychotics and anti-depressants can take weeks before they begin to work, and they can be very harmful to foetuses. I can see any number of scenarios whereby health and social work professionals might come to the conclusion that the best thing for the woman and for her baby was to get the baby out of her as quickly and as safely as possible, and that other options would not be adequate or sufficient.
It’s not pleasant. It’s upsetting, it’s distressing, it’s something that nobody wants to happen. Nobody wants it to happen to them, nobody wants it to happen to other people. I understand that if you’ve never worked in the field, or never experienced that type of mental illness to that degree of severity, it might seem farfetched and unbelievable that someone could be so unwell that the best option for her care is to compel her to have a C-section. But it can happen. And instead of rushing to condemn it based on nothing but one interpretation of some of the facts, shouldn’t all those people who claim to respect and value public services and the workers who deliver them show a little bit of that respect by holding back on the condemnation and accepting that the people who knew the full facts made the decision they thought was best at the time?
Miscarriages of justice happen. Of course they do. Nobody gets it right all the time. Professionals try hard to get it right, and that’s why they don’t take decisions in isolation. They discuss things with their colleagues, with their managers, with their employer’s legal people, with the other agencies involved, and they agree plans of action together – and then they present their evidence to the court, and the court decides. It could be, that in this case, they all got it terribly terribly wrong. But we don’t know the full facts, we only know the report from Brooker, who is not a reliable source, and the bare minimum of information released by Essex County Council. So, instead of shouting about how appalling it is, why don’t the bloggers accept that they don’t know the full facts and stop indulging in such irresponsible, hateful criticism? Or even better, if they’re such experts, why don’t they go and train as social workers and show us all what a better job they’d make of it?
Because every time someone who doesn’t know the facts and doesn’t know the law starts shouting about how terrible social workers are, somebody somewhere sees it and believes it, and decides not to ask for help that they need.